• Speaker recounts family’s Holocaust experience

  • Sam Devinki was the guest speaker for the Fort Leavenworth Days of Remembrance observance April 21.

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  • Christopher Burnett | Staff Writer
    Kansas City area businessman Sam Devinki was the guest speaker for the Fort Leavenworth Days of Remembrance observance April 21 at Grant Auditorium.
    President George W. Bush appointed Devinki to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Council in 1993. He holds a bachelor’s degree in business from the University of Oklahoma and is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Kansas City Law School.
    “My parents ultimately lived the American dream and started a family real estate business in 1955, the same year they became citizens,” Devinki said.
    Devinki has been president of the company his parents started since 1993 and told his family’s Holocaust story. He said his mother, Maria, grew up in Wodzislaw, Poland. In 1943, during the middle of World War II, the Germans ultimately sent her father to Treblinka and forced the rest of the family to relocate to a ghetto.
    “There were numerous concentration camps, but Treblinka was one of those specially designated for killing people,” Devinki said. “Anyone sent there was never heard from again.”
    Devinki said a Polish army officer helped Maria, her husband, mother and brothers escape the Skarzysko complex. In June 1944, while the Nazi guards were preoccupied with seeking shelter from Allied air raids, they escaped to Czenstochan, where they hid until the Russians liberated them in February 1945.
    “It is important to communicate this history to audiences of all ages today. Being able to present this information as part of the Fort Leavenworth observance is critical because I am speaking to adults and leaders,” Devinki said. “Remember to stand up against injustice, and I can assure you others will be standing up behind you. But, somebody has to be first.”
    Devinki was born in 1948 at a camp for displaced people in Regensburg, Germany. He and his parents came to the United States in 1950.
    “I also speak a lot in high schools, and I tell the kids that things like the Holocaust don’t start with throwing people in gas chambers and ovens. That’s how they can end,” Devinki said. “They start with little and seemingly benign things like ‘I don’t want to have lunch with that person because he or she is black,’ or ‘I don’t want to have lunch with this person because he or she is fat.’”
    Devinki said he purposefully goes further in his talks to provide students and audiences useful tools to address issues of equality and social decency. He said the most important thing any person can do is stand up for what is the right thing to do and say when a situation is not appropriate.
    Page 2 of 2 - Col. Edward Bohnemann, commander of the Mission Command Training Program, thanked Devinki on behalf of the Combined Arms Center and Fort Leavenworth for his presentation and participation in the observance. He said remembering the lessons that can be learned today from the Holocaust and other equal opportunity events throughout the year are vital to American culture.
    “I think the substance of this event is to remind us about the importance of the diversity we enjoy that is inherent in our society and Army. Diversity makes us stronger. We are better for it,” Bohnemann said. “Particularly, when we observed the Holocaust remembrance, we confront a dark time in history that we as soldiers have a responsibility to guard against ever happening again.”
    Congress established the Days of Remembrance as the country’s annual commemoration of the Holocaust. State and local governments, military bases, workplaces, schools, religious organizations, and civic centers host activities annually. The Week of Remembrance runs from the Sunday before Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom Hashoah) through the following Sunday.
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